Revelation – False Teaching & False Promises – 6

Revelation 2:12-1712 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. 13 “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. 15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’

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Intro: Funny activity where we have a volunteer come up and do something silly, then we jokingly laugh at them. (after one volunteer, I guess that we will not have any or many more volunteers…making the point that we care about how people judge us, and our actions follow based on how we think they will judge us.)

You are going to face judgment for the way you live. (vs 12)

You are going to be judged for anything you do. A lot of people don’t want anything to do with Christ or the church because they feel they are judged by Christians. The thing is, it’s not just Christians who judge. It’s everybody. The world and culture around us is incredibly judgmental, and the ones that scream for tolerance are often the most judgmental. Because if you start living for Christ and his standards of truth and morality, the “non-judgmental” champions of tolerance and inclusion will shout as loud as they can how wrong and evil you are for not believing in and following their way of life.

One of our greatest fears is being judged. We care about how people perceive us. Think about entering middle school or high school for the first time and how scared you were. Why do you worry so much about making a fool of yourself? You get nervous when you have to read out loud. Public speaking is one of the most common phobias people have. Why do you only post the best parts of your life online? It’s because you worry and care about what people think about you…how they’ll judge you. I deal with that in my PhD studies even now. There’s a thing called imposter syndrome. And apparently I’m not the only person who has it, but everybody has this internal thought that I’m not good enough or smart enough and soon I will be exposed for the fraud I really am and everybody will find out.

We all will be judged by how we act. Period. Whose judgment, though, do you fear most? The world or Jesus?

This two-edge sword that is mentioned here is a tool of judgment. It also alludes to the Word of God (Eph 6:17; Heb 4:12).

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

God’s Word is the rule by which we are to live. It is only by God’s Word that we know what sin is and know we are sinners (Rom 3:20). It is what rightly and truthfully judges us and is the means by which the world is judged. And Jesus is the Word incarnate, the Word made flesh (Jn 1:14). We see in Isaiah 11:4 that the Messiah will judge “with discipline from His mouth.”[1]

So, with all this in mind, hear what James Hamilton says,

“Whose judgment do you fear? The Christians in John’s audience could avoid the sword of Rome by doing things that would put them in danger of the sword of Jesus. We will all face situations where what the world judges to be right conflicts with what Jesus judges to be right. Whose sword do you respect in the moment? The sword of the world and the judgment the world might inflict, or the sharp two-edge sword in the mouth of the Son of man?”[2]

If you live for Christ, you will face judgment from the world. You will face persecution. Hear what the Apostle Paul said to a young pastor Timothy, as if he is saying it to you.

2 Timothy 3:12-1512 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

No matter what you face, hold fast to your faith in Christ. (vs 13)

Last week and this week we see a church who stood firm amidst death and persecution. The church at Pergamum didn’t deny their faith even though they dwelled amidst a sinful culture and people were being killed. We know nothing about this man Antipas the verse references that was martyred.[3] Some think he may have been their pastor. An early tradition says he died by being roasted inside a “brass bull” during the reign of Domitian.[4]

The thing about persecution is, living a certain way merits it, and living a certain way prevents it. What did these last two churches not do that led to people being killed? They didn’t bow to the culture that was around them. They didn’t bow to the ideas the culture was promoting. They didn’t bow to the rulers and government. They didn’t bow to the gods and customs. They didn’t bow to the mainstream ethic of the city and nation around them. What did these last two churches do that led to them being killed? They bowed to Christ alone. They stood for truth as it was defined by God. They shared the gospel of Jesus. And they were killed. And they stood firm. They cared more about the reputation of Christ than even their own life.

Care more about the reputation of Christ than your own reputation. It’s unlikely that you will be killed for your faith. But, you most certainly can have your reputation destroyed. You most certainly can lose friends. You can be talked about. Jesus cares about his reputation, his glory. So should we. Above all else.

Revelation 2:3 –  I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.

Revelation 2:13 – I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

Revelation 3:8 – I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

Revelation 3:12 – The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.

His is the name above every name and at his name every knee will bow (Phil 2:9-11). Whose name do you care more about? Whose name does your life most promote? If we looked at your social media feed and conversation threads, who is the center of attention? When we start to promote ourselves and live for ourselves and take our eyes and focus off God, it is easy for false teaching to creep in. We cling to teaching that we want to hear instead of teaching that is true.

Flee from false teaching. (14-16)

After all the good Jesus said to this church, they were called to repent from false teaching. The church in Ephesus was commended for rejecting the false teaching of the Nicolaitans. This church was called to repent because they bought into the false teaching. The false teaching that had crept into this church was leading to sexual sin and idolatry.

Hear what Warren Wiersbe has to say about the reference we see here to the Old Testament story of Balaam, (he says it better and more succinctly than I can), which is found in Numbers 22-25, and its relation to the church in Pergamum holding on to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

“Understanding the story of Balaam helps us interpret this insidious group more accurately. Balaam was a true prophet who prostituted his gifts in order to earn money from King Balak, who hired him to curse the people of Israel. God prevented Balaam from actually cursing the nation—in fact, God turned the curses into blessings!—but Balak still got his money’s worth. How? By following Balaam’s advice and making friends with Israel, and then inviting the Jews to worship and feast at the pagan altars. The Jewish men fell right into the trap and many of them became “good neighbors.” They ate meat from idolatrous altars and committed fornication as part of heathen religious rites. Twenty-four thousand people died because of this disobedient act of compromise. Why did this bit of ancient history apply to the believers at Pergamos? Because a group in that church said, “There is nothing wrong with being friendly to Rome…” Antipas refused to compromise and was martyred, but others took the “easy way” and cooperated with Rome.”[5]

Are there ideas in our culture that are similar? That are easier to just give into?

These false teachings that lead to pursuing the desires of our flesh are love-substitutes.[6] They promise to fulfil and satisfy. At the root of idolatry and pursuing sin is the thought that this god or this thing is going to provide for me. It’s going to ultimately satisfy and meet my deepest needs. That’s what our culture sells us. It essentially tells us to be true to how we feel in the moment. Whether we feel like a girl or a boy or being sexually promiscuous or whatever our flesh is telling us, we should follow those desires. That’s who we truly are, the culture says. So, pursue your flesh. This is the way the culture says to live, and it’s preached to you by celebrities. Yet, your generation is the most depressed generation of all time. And the celebrities that show you smiles on their Instagram feed and tv screens are no different. You’re being fed a lie, just like the church at Pergamum. And many people buy into the lie, even within the church, just like them.

Sin makes promises that it cannot keep.

The reason your generation and those who live out the values of our culture are so depressed is because what they think will satisfy cannot, therefore it will not.

Blaise Pascal famously said, which is often misquoted simply as, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” In the real, full quote, he says,

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”[7]

Augustine similarly said of God, “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”[8]

God provides our truest needs. (17)

The hidden manna in this verse is a reference to God’s provision for the Israelites as they left Egypt and were in the wilderness for forty years. God provided their every need. Every day. Without fail. It wasn’t glamorous or the tastiest thing in the world. They even grumbled and complained that at least they had meat back when they were in slavery in Egypt (Ex 16:3). Yet still, God provided their truest needs every single day.

While sin promises and cannot fulfil, God provides everything we truly need.

The Puritan non-conformist Thomas Brooks said, “Satan promises the best, but pays with the worst; he promises honor, and pays with disgrace; he promises pleasure, and pays with pain; he promises profit, and pays with loss, he promises life, and pays with death. But God pays as he promises; all his payments are made in pure gold.”[9]

Think of the way sexual sin entices and what it lies about. After all, it is mentioned as one of the areas the false teaching led to in this church. And it’s probably the most enticing and widely-held sin in our world. Sexual sin promises intimacy. A girl will give herself away because she thinks she will be loved and will end up being used and feel like trash. Again, God provides what sin cannot. We see it in this passage.

We see this reference to a stone with a name on it in verse 17. There is really no single thing commentators are certain this stone refers to. There are a dozen or so possibilities.[10] What we do know is that there is a stone with a name that no one knows except the one who receives it. This is the promise of intimacy that sexual immorality cannot fulfil.

Hear what G.K. Beale says about this new name, and think about the end of time and all eternity for you.

“The new name refers to being in the eternal presence of God, as Rev. 22:3-4 makes clear, “They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.” To know someone’s name, especially that of God, in the ancient world and the OT often meant to enter into an intimate relationship with that person.”[11]

We see at the end of Revelation that God will dwell with his people. This is literally the word for tabernacle. In the tabernacle was the ark of the covenant. And one of the things within that ark was manna. It was a constant reminder through all the ages that God satisfies. God provides. From the time of Moses to you right now and on into eternity forever.

Sin promises so much. It never fulfils. God does. Forever. And for you, that starts right now.

So, are you holding firm to your faith in Christ, even amidst a harsh and judgmental culture? Or have you bought into the lies the culture is selling you? Are you worshiping the gods they are promoting? Are you seeking to satisfy your flesh and live to make your name great instead of seeking the glory of Christ above all else? If so, the call to the church at Pergamum is the call to you. Repent. Because judgment is coming.

[1] Daniel L. Akin, Exalting Jesus in Revelation, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary (Nashville: B&H, 2016), 57.

[2] James M. Hamilton, Jr., Revelation, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 87.

[3] Daniel L. Akin, Exalting Jesus in Revelation, 59.

[4] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1997), 80.

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2007), 1042.

[6] Hamilton, Jr., Revelation, 89.

[7] Blaise Pascal, Pensées, trans. A. J Krailsheimer (New York: Penguin Books, 1966), 75.

[8] Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5

[9] Thomas Brooks, “Heaven on Earth,” in The Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander B. Grosart, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2001), 322.

[10] Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 82-83.

[11] G. K. Beale, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2015), 69.


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